Solo tramper returned to find world had changed

James Johnston completed his Five Passes hike in Kinloch, to find New Zealand in lockdown and...
James Johnston completed his Five Passes hike in Kinloch, to find New Zealand in lockdown and masked figures approaching him. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A solo hiker had the shock of a lifetime when he returned from a five-day South Island tramp to find New Zealand in lockdown.

Englishman James Johnston set off on the difficult Five Passes route, with no idea he would be approached by three hooded figures, wearing masks and hi-viz jackets, on his return.

“In their masks and their hoodies, it looked like ... a post-apocalyptic survivor squad.”

Mr Johnston set out on Sunday, March 22.

When he finished the loop track last Thursday, the popular Routeburn shelter car park, from where he had hoped to hitchhike to Queenstown, was empty.

He had accepted he would have to walk a further 25km to Glenorchy in the pouring rain, when three ambassadors from the Queenstown-Lakes District Council-sponsored Responsible Camping Project team spotted him.

They told him the country was in lockdown and it was unlikely he could get back to Wellington.

“When I left Wellington there were no restrictions, this was all out of the blue.

The team — Samantha Orridge, Shannon Owen and Matt Hodge — took guidance on what they should do.

“Two or three minutes later they said, ‘We can’t leave you here, put this mask on and come with us’,’’ and took him to Queenstown Airport.

Mr Johnston had finished his walk at 2.15pm and caught the 4pm flight to Wellington with 10 minutes to spare.

“It was exhilarating. I sat in my seat on the plane and just had so much adrenaline.”

Camping project manager Craig Gallagher said the ambassadors were there to advise campers about the lockdown and how to remain safe.

He was pleased they came across the hiker and pleasing they could go the extra mile to get him home safely.

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